The Court of Appeal has upheld a High Court decision which awarded a Somerset woman over £1 million compensation in a case about the inheritance of a family farm near Yeovil.

Lucy Habberfield received the substantial award in recognition of the work that she had carried out at the family farm over a period of 30 years.

She was advised by the inheritance and trust disputes team at Stephens Scown LLP.

Lucy is urging other farming families to discuss what they want to happen to family farms when they are passed on to the next generation.

The case related to Woodrow Farm near Yeovil.

Lucy started to work on the family farm when she left school. She worked with her father to reintroduce a dairy herd to Woodrow and went on to develop and run the dairy business. Over 30 years Lucy worked for low wages and with few holidays. In 2007 she was joined on the farm by her partner Stuart Parker on a full-time basis and together they brought up four children while running the business.

Lucy claimed that her father had assured her that she would take over the farm when he retired. However, when he died in 2014 her father’s promises and assurances were not carried out.

The High Court during the five day trial in February 2018 considered whether Lucy should be compensated for the broken promises. The High Court Judge found in favour of Lucy and awarded her £1.17m.

Lucy’s mother, Jane Habberfield, was granted permission to appeal. The Appeal was heard on May 14 and May 15 by Lord Justice Lewison, Lord Justice Moylan and Lady Justice Rose of the Court of Appeal.

Lucy was represented at appeal by Leslie Blohm QC and Christopher Jones of St John’s Chambers instructed and supported by Phil Gregory, Georgia Wookey and Holly Bryan of Stephens Scown.

The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court decision. It unanimously rejected Mrs Habberfield’s claim that the amount of Lucy’s award should be reduced and that she should have longer to pay. The Appeal Court decided that the original order was within the ambit of the judge’s wide discretion.

Phil Gregory, partner in the inheritance and trust disputes team at Stephens Scown advised on the case. He explains: “For 30 years Lucy worked seven days a week for low wages on the family farm on the understanding that she would one day take over the farm from her father. The Court of Appeal’s decision means that she can now move on and have the career her parents promised her for three decades.”

Phil added: “The area of law involved is called Proprietary Estoppel. It is a developing area, with a series of high profile cases, particularly relating to farms, over recent years. We are delighted for our client that the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court decision. She will now receive a fair amount for the work she put into the family farm over a very long period of time.”

Lucy Habberfield said: “I am so relieved and glad it is over. Stuart and I can start planning for the future now, which I hope may include a return to farming. I started milking the cows on our farm when I was 15. I know a lot of people thought I’d soon get fed up, but I loved it and I still do. It is more than a job; it is a way of life and I’ve missed it so much since we left the farm five and a half years ago.”

Lucy has advice for other farming families. She adds: “I’m so sad that our case had to go so far and my advice for other farming families is to get together around the table and talk about what you want to happen to your farms. No one likes talking about what will happen after they die, but we are only here once and having a proper, open conversation about it so everyone knows where they stand could save so much misunderstanding and heartache later on.”